PULANE Maake, a bright high school pupil, could not help feeling anxious a few hours before leaving for the US to realise a special dream.
"I am excited and anxious at the same time. I hope my two roommates there are nice people," she said at OR Tambo International Airport at the weekend.
Surrounded by family and friends who had come to bid her and her mother Evelyn farewell, Pulane said she was looking forward to interacting with young people from all over the world.
The 11-year-old Grade 6 pupil at Belgravia Dominican High School in Johannesburg was nominated by her teacher, Kim Bechus, to participate in the People to People Leadership Forum in Washington.
Dalene Rostovsky, the school's principal, has also been supportive.
The forum, which was established by former US president Dwight Eisenhower and is led by his daughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower, allows pupils in grades 6 to 12 to investigate specific topics or career interests while acquiring leadership skills.
Pulane said she hoped to gain self-confidence, gain good leadership skills and to become a good role model.
"I want to be a person who leads by example," she said.
"I want to show that anyone can follow their dreams. Going overseas was one of them," she said.
Pulane's letters of appeal for help to raise R50000 for her week-long stay were published in Sowetan last year. A number of Good Samaritans, organisations and businesses sponsored her trip following the publication of her letters.
In part, she wrote: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help me realise the opportunity to interact with other kids from all corners of the world.
"I hope to acquire many empowerment skills that I will impart to others in my school and community as I am a dynamic young leader with a passion for giving back to others. I would appreciate it if individuals, companies and organisations assist me with any amount to help realise this dream.
"The total cost of the trip is R50000 and so far we have managed to raise R27000, mostly through Good Samaritans...".
Among these Good Samaritans are:
l Sello Mogopudi of General Medical Supplies;
l Thabo Manzi of Amaqwathi Tours;
l Ayanda Mbanga-Mhungu of Ayanda Mbanga Communications;
l The deputy general's office in the Department of Education (DoE);
l Peter Malepe, counsellor political in the South African High Commission to Nigeria;
l Transnet and the employers of Pulane's mum, Evelyn, who have paid for her to be with her daughter in the US.
The academically-gifted Pulane said she had been the top pupil in her school since she was in primary school and she aspired to be a chartered accountant.
"I love maths and apparently they get paid a lot of money," she said.
Pulane and her mother will return to Johannesburg next Sunday.
l This nation-building project - to help Pulane to realise her dream - could not have succeeded, had it not been for the industriousness of its coordinator, Sowetan's consumer editor, Thuli Zungu.
- Additional reporting and editing by Victor Mecoamere.